The community group preserving the Niuean language in Australia
In an effort to preserve the Niuean language among the community in New South Wales, Joanna Matagi and a small team of dedicated tutors together run monthly classes for speakers of all levels and ages.
Having run the classes since moving to Australia in 2009, Joanna hopes she and the community can provide longevity to the disappearing Pacific language.
“The Niuean language today is going away, we’re losing it because the English language has taken over in things like education and because everybody has grasped at this new, universal language and taken it on as their own,” Joanna said.
In providing the groundwork and basics of the language to our community, I know that our language can continue on and survive, but if we don’t, then it will disappear into thin air.
“The Niuean language is important because it’s my heritage and it’s my culture and while it’s a bit similar to Tongan, Samoan, the Cook Island and Maori languages, it is still a unique language on its own so it has to be nurtured.”
However, as the classes are only run once a month, Joanna and the community team have taken full advantage of social media, which allows students to contact teachers when they need to clarify the pronunciation and meanings of words and phrases.
As well as this, the Niuean Community Council of NSW also holds a number of events throughout the year, where they often integrate the learning of the language.
“The last five or so years, we’ve held a language week leading up to our Niue Constitution Celebration where we celebrate our independence in the month of October,” Joanna explained.
“We’ve made it known that the week prior to the celebration, we hold activities each day and we invite families to try and learn a word and to use that word throughout the day.”
Joanna credits much of her talents as an educator to her mother and grandmother, who were both teachers.
She also said it is enriching to know the tutors are often contacted by people who are returning from a trip to Niue and are wanting to learn how to speak the language.
“I especially encourage parents to use their native language with their kids – it’s important and it’s beautiful to hear,” she said.
“It’s very rewarding when you hear a lot of the children speaking the language and engage in the classes.
We have a language, we need to nurture it, we need to maintain it, and we need to be able to speak it.
To learn more about the language classes, join the Facebook group HERE.